The audience for Hollywood movies just has to accept that every few months there will be a big film set in a post-apocalyptic world, with a lot of action and special effects. Mortal Engines, directed by Christian Rivers, combines the seemingly unending resources of Peter Jackson’s company (he also co-wrote it) and the YA appeal of Philip Reeve’s novels. This film is based in the first of the series of four written by him, so the possibility of a franchise is built in.
The sci-fi action adventure is set in the future, when all that’s left of humanity lives in mobile habitats on land and air, and these predatory cities go on a rampage, gobbling smaller cities — which sounds as preposterous as it looks; there’s a lot of clanging metal and giant gnashing metallic teeth, a bit like huge trash compactors — a steampunk nightmare. An opening action sequence has London out on a ‘colonising’ spree — the British apparently didn’t learn anything from the past.
Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), a scar-faced teenager, survived a murderous attack that killed her mother, and grew up to take revenge against the villainous Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaver). Her attempt to stab him in the midst of a crowd, is thwarted by his associate, a nerdy young historian, Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), who finds himself tossed into the same chute that Hera fell into. The two of them get to team up with stylish Asian pilot Anna Fang (Jihae), an outlaw with a price on her head, who is also fighting the evil ‘empire’. And there’s cyborg called Shrike (Stephen Lang), who is hunting down Hester, but there’s a back story to him.
The elementary revenge plot is padded with the usual extravagantly shot non-stop action mayhem, and impressive though it is — Rivers used to be Jackson’s special effects expert — it is really not all that interesting. Too many of these dystopian films have been made already, so if one more is added to the list without having anything new to say or show, just looks like several similar films gone chucked into a blender and what came out was this one. For young audiences, who may not have seen the old films, Mortal Engines has enough eye-popping action to entertain. Otherwise, it’s just a lot of metal, not enough drama.